Tim Cook teases Apple VR/AR headset strategy in new interview

apple mixed reality headset render
(Image credit: Ian Zelbo)

Update: Future Apple VR/AR headset just tipped for breakthrough display.

Despite some high expectations, any mention of an Apple VR/AR headset was notably absent from WWDC 2022. Apple CEO Tim Cook must have noticed, too, because on June 21 he sat down with China Daily USA (opens in new tab) and said to “stay tuned” to see what Apple has to offer.

While this offers very little in the way of concrete information, the interview was not without some insights. First, the interview focused largely on AR, not VR. While this may have merely been an oversight on the part of the interviewer or Cook, it feels very intentional.

Cook specifically highlighted the “over 14,000 ARKit apps in the [Apple] App Store,” so the interview seems particularly designed to focus on the future of AR rather than VR. Cook has shown a preference for AR in the past, so this is not a huge shock. 

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Apple VR/AR: What is the difference between VR and AR? 

Without getting into the finer details, the main difference between VR and AR is the immersion experienced by the user. VR (virtual reality) is a completely immersive experience that transports the user into a wholly digital world. There are currently a few VR headsets on the market, largely focused on gaming. The Oculus Quest 2 is currently our best VR headset available.

AR (augmented reality) instead focuses on adding digital function to your physical reality. A couple of examples of AR devices are the Snap Spectacles or Alphabet’s rumored Google Glass sequel. These allow wearers to add digital overlays, such as a photo filter, over what they are able to see with their own two eyes. 

An AR glasses concept by 3D artist Martin Hajek

(Image credit: idropnews/Martin Hajek)

There is also MR (mixed reality), which takes aspects of both VR and AR and combines them into one device. Microsoft Hololens 2 is currently the leading example of this format, but the new Apple headset is rumored to be an MR device as well. 

Meta is also working on a number of mixed reality headsets, including Project Cambria. And just this week Mark Zuckerberg showed off some prototype VR headsets to demonstrate where this nascent category could go. 

Apple VR/AR: What we know so far 

While there has been no official announcement from Apple regarding its VR/AR mixed reality headset, we do have some rumors regarding the device. 

First, this VR/AR headset is not the same as Apple Glasses. Apple Glasses is a separate rumored hardware project that will be an AR-only device. Expect these to be a direct competitor to the next Google Glass if both devices are released to consumers. 

apple vr and mixed reality headset fan render side view

(Image credit: Ian Zelbo)

Second, while this is a VR/AR mixed reality headset, it is not expected to tie into the metaverse. Cook said in the China Daily USA interview that “The critical thing to any technology including AR is putting humanity at the center of it, and that is what we focus on every day." Users are expected to be able to use the Apple VR/AR headset for communication, content consumption and gaming, but the headset is not intended to replace real life. 

Currently, rumors have the Apple VR/AR headset with a release window of sometime in 2023, possibly in the second quarter of next year. They are also expected to carry a hefty price tag, possibly in line with the $3,500 price of Microsoft Hololens 2. While this may be out of reach for many consumers, the VR/AR headset may be part of a more accessible mixed reality ecosystem. Apple is rumored to be trademarking realityOS, which could be used across multiple devices including Apple Glasses and the rumored Apple VR/AR headset.  

Malcolm McMillan
News Writer

Malcolm McMillan is a News Writer for Tom's Guide. Before writing for Tom's Guide, he worked many retail jobs and many Black Fridays, including a stint for Microsoft. He is passionate about video games and sports, though both cause him to yell at the TV frequently. In his spare time, Malcolm is a fantasy football analyst. He proudly sports many tattoos, including an Arsenal tattoo, in honor of the team that causes him to yell at the TV the most.